Monday, May 5, 2014


for 12 singers, Hammond organ (or synthesizer), 4 ring modulators, tape (cond., timer)
(1965) [ca. 15']
(Score Front, (© Universal Edition))
     After creating a new sound world with a close-miked tam-tam (MIKROPHONIE I), Stockhausen wanted to develop that idea by adding actual human voices to the tam-tam (Kurtz 1992, 139).   Unfortunately this never really worked out, so instead he kept the idea of close-miked voices and used ring modulators on them instead.  The degree of ring modulation was controlled by playing a Hammond B3 organ into the same ring modulators that the vocalists were connected to (as the "difference tones").  The electrical signals from the organ's notes and chords would cause the ring modulator to distort and otherwise transform the sounds of the vocalists.  For more about ring modulation see MIXTUR.

     The main score has 5 voice parts: Organ, Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Bass 1 and Bass 2.  There are also "footnotes" where a tape excerpt of a previous Stockhausen piece (GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE , CARRÉ, or MOMENTE) is played as a kind of "time-window insert" into the past.  The instructions (as seen below) are of the descriptive type.  Sometimes a pitch or chord may be mentioned, but the bulk of the vocal instructions are more like "like a baby", "somewhat hoarse, ala jazz", "like drunks, raucous at times", "cool, fast, like plucked basses", "solemn Levitical tone", etc...  Other types of instructions include "sing melody groups around a low D sharp in a tonal space limited by your highest and lowest note", or "sing crescendos and decrescendos, synchronously, quick tone-groups with prescribed numbers of notes, with long pauses of different length between the groups".  In many cases one member of a choral group leads the others for coordination.

Score excerpt: Moment 18 and 19
Universal Edition)

     The sung text is from Helmut Heißenbüttel’s "nonsense" poem, "Einfache grammatische Meditationen" (Simple Grammatical Meditations).  A sample of the Heißenbüttel text:

the shadow I cast is the shadow I cast
the situation I've come into is the situation I've come into
the situation I've come into is yes and no
situation my situation my particular situation
groups of groups move over empty spaces
disintegrating reflections and disintegrating mid-afternoons

Robin Maconie describes the use of this text as an expression of isolation and frustration with German audiences.  At the time of its premiere Stockhausen wrote "Germany has turned back into a nation of Philistines".

Form Scheme
     The work is divided into 33 structures or "moments" (the same number of structures as MIKROPHONIE I).  The text verses are split apart and spread throughout the Moments, and each section has a combination of dueling vocal styles ("attitude"), as described above.  The durations of each are based on the Fibonacci series (Frisius 2008).  Several times a time-window opens where the singers become more subdued and a fifth loudspeaker plays back a recording excerpt from one of the three pieces mentioned above:

Moment Voice Attitudes Time Windows
1 Soprano 1 & 2: high solemn Levite chant
Bass 1 & 2: deep voiced speech

2 S+B: normal speech rhythm whispered GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE
3 S: Levite chant becomes sexy, seductive
S: Like a baby to baroque invention to hoarse
B: drunken, belching 
B: cool jazz/string bass to snobbish

4 S: old enraged crone
B: abusive to exhausted 
B: Sicilian street hawker

5 S+B: whispered, vocal click CARRÉ
6 S: stammering
B: resigned

7 S: normal speech
B: irregular military commands

8 S+B: whispered short syllables MOMENTE
9 B: sleepy, yawning  
B: nasal police officer

10 S: anxious / short chords
B: whistling

12 S: weeping 
S: deep voice speech
B: clicks

13 S: laughing, hum
B: operatic to suddenly cold

14 S: exhausted (gasping)
B: calm as a judge

15 S: yelling to slightly tipsy
B: fast baroque

16 S: single chords  
S: birdlike, headtone
B: jazzy slow swing in falsetto / whistle

17 S+B: whisper CARRÉ
18 S: solemn Levite chant  
S: stammering
B: menacing to frightened

19 S+B: whispered MOMENTE
20 S+B: chord to whisper CARRÉ and
21 S: witch-like
B: lightly swinging  
B: German crooner
22 S: dreamily, rocking a baby 
S: demonic
23 S: giggle 
S: fearful
B: whistle 
B: hoarse call

24 S: chanting, becoming vamping at the mirror
B: typewriter clattering

25 S: vamp at the mirror
B: "Louis Armstrong"
B: typewriter clattering

26 S: "whirring"
B: natural speech 
B: absently

27 S: quiet whistle
B: soft cursing 
B: Don Cossack Choir

28 S: asking uncertainly
B: calling out
B: Don Cossack Choir

29 S: slow staccato chords ala coloratura soprano
S: boisterously cheerful
B: bebop jazz 
B: organ sounds

30 S: deep voiced speech
B: falsetto
B: whistle

31 S: cheerful shouts to unhappy memories 
S: suggestively, giggling
B: chant

32 S+B: whisper MOMENTE
33 S: headtone staccato chords
B: fast speech

Live Performance
     Twelve singers are divided into 4 groups of 3: Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Bass 1, Bass 2.  As seen below, they sit in a semicircle, while a conductor and a time keeper stand in the center, facing the audience.  The Hammond B3 is behind and above the conductor, also facing the audience. The organ sound is relatively quiet, since it's volume is projected only by its own internal speaker.  As seen in the photo at the top of the page, there are 4 speakers placed behind the organ.  A mixer (Stockhausen) mixes the transformed, ring-modulated sound with the natural sounds of the singers.  Each vocal trio is mixed separately, so that a ring-modulated Soprano 1 can be simultaneous with a non-transformed Soprano 2 and Bass 1.
(from CD notes
Stockhausen, center back.

Sound Impressions 
     The two main things happening here are the ring modulations and the 33 "scenes".  Different voices are distorted to different degrees in different combinations, while various vocal style combinations come one after another.  The impression is something like listening to a mixed group of humans and Daleks do 33 sung stand-up routines on a badly tuned radio.  The "meaningless" text also adds to the feeling if disconnection.  The organ is mostly inaudible on the CD except for a chord here or there.  Several reviewers mention that this work is "dark" or "depressing", but I really didn't find it that way, in fact around the 1-minute mark the sopranos seem downright "festive".  The different styles of singing keep the pace moving and sometimes the ring modulation distortions are so extreme that it's hard to tell if the source was a soprano or a bass.  However, just like MIKROPHONIE I, this piece doesn't seem like music in the normal sense, but more like a mixed-up radio musical of some sort (complete with Greek chorus).

Sound Samples, Track listings and CD ordering

LP Notes (Stockhausen)
Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen (Robin Maconie)
The Modulated Subject: Stockhausen's MIKROPHONIE II (Larson Powell)
Compositional techniques in the music of Stockhausen (1951-1970) John Kelsall
Stockhausen: A Biography (Michael Kurtz)
Karlheinz Stockhausen II: Die Werke 1950–1977; Gespräch mit Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Es geht aufwärts" (Rudolf Frisius)

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